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Tale of Two Libraries
Two Perspectives on Current Closing
April 5, 2017

For updates to the two original accounts, please scroll past third photo.

T
he Pamlico County Public Library is aiming to reopen next Monday April 10. The library’s shutdown last week – on March 29 – took many by surprise, but the tensions leading to the closure have been simmering for months.

It’s been about turf.

The public library and the Pamlico High School library have shared the space for decades, one of the few arrangements of that sort in the state. With fewer than 13,000 residents in Pamlico County, it seemed to make fiscal sense.

pamlico library  closed
The Pamlico County Public Library on the campus of Pamlico High School in Bayboro.

Recently, the high school sought to have some of that space dedicated just for use by students. That meant that the public library would have to leave the large room which had been its children’s section. It did not do so willingly – an eviction order was served on the public library. An appeal was filed, then failed.

Last Wednesday, the public library closed to make the changes and absorb that children’s collection & section into its remaining space. That, in broad strokes, is why the library is closed. It was to reopen today but yesterday announced it would reopen next Monday, April 10.

For more on the story, TownDock.net presents 2 perspectives — one from the high school library, the other from the public library.

We start with Jen Baker, who is the Pamlico High School Librarian.

In reference to the TownDock post of March 30th regarding the library, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify a few points.

The Pamlico County Public Library is housed within the high school and pays a nominal rent to the school district for the use of the space. At the time it was built, there weren’t many differences between the purposes of a public library and a school library.

But school libraries are no longer the quiet study halls of our youth. 21st century school libraries are the heart and hub of the school. They aren’t just about books; they’re about technology, collaboration, and creativity. They contain areas for STEM exploration (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), creating multimedia presentations, and having Skype calls with authors and experts around the world.

These activities involve a lot of movement, discussion, and active engagement. Public library patrons have made complaints about such student activity in the library. School administrators have been working with public library board members for years to come up with solutions to address our diverging needs.

Additionally, the school has struggled with how to make the library available to students while still keeping them safe in the public space. Recently, a swipe card system was put into place which keeps the public out of the school building, but has also made the library less accessible to students and staff.

Because our public library is part of a regional library system and the school collection was shared with the public library, books purchased with school funds for student or staff use were required to circulate to all ten public libraries in the region on a first-come, first-served basis. Meanwhile, our students were paying fines to the library system for books that were owned by the school. For these reasons, among others, the school decided to separate our collection from the public collection. This gives us the ability to use our own circulation system, allowing us to integrate digital resources and to more readily meet the curricular needs of our school.

In order to maintain this separate collection, meet the demands of a 21st century school library program, and address student safety issues, we need a space within the library that is not open to the public. The room that has recently been the children’s room opens directly to the school, so can be safely accessed without a swipe pass, and was in fact used by the school system for decades.

You may recall that at the beginning of this school year, the library was rearranged and what had been the young adult room was converted into a quiet study space. This move was done in one week without closing down the library. That is why, once it was agreed by both school and library administrators that it made sense for the school to reclaim the former children’s room, a month’s notice seemed sufficient. So on February 16th, a formal request was made for the school to be granted use of that room by March 15th.

While it is unfortunate that on March 29th the library temporarily closed, the decision to do so was not because they had little notice. I recognize that the public library is a valuable resource to our community. I hope the citizens of Pamlico County agree that we also have a responsibility to do what is best for our students.

Thank you,
Jen Baker, MLS
School Library Media Coordinator
Pamlico County High School

pamlico library  closed
Like the mistletoe-laden tree next to its entrance, The Pamlico County Public Library and the Pamlico High School Library have long shared space. That is changing.

Roberta Jones is president of the group Friends of the Pamlico Public Library which raises money to support the library and to augment the funding from Pamlico County commissioners.

In 1964, Mary Belle Hollowell spent much of her spare time painting the interior of a small building behind the Court House to house a new library for Pamlico County. The little library opened and thrived, manned by a few devoted women volunteers. Several years later, Mrs. Hollowell and some like-minded community members teamed up with the school district to establish a joint library with the Pamlico County High School.

The collection was moved to the High School and one of the few combination libraries in the state was formed. The Pamlico County Public and the Pamlico County High libraries occupied the same space, continuing to do so for the next 40 years. Two librarians co-existed in the same space—one for the public library and one for the high school. A board consisting of ten members and answering to the County Board of Commissioners was established to oversee the libraries.

According to George Brinson, who was superintendent at the time, everyone considered it a win-win situation. Because the Public Library is part of a regional system of ten libraries in Pamlico, Craven and Carteret Counties, the students had easy access to a multitude of resources and because the region helped Pamlico procure the latest technology, the students were also able to utilize those resources. In exchange, the students proved to be excellent volunteers, assisting the librarians in a variety of ways.

Over the years librarians’ roles have changed. Their duties have become broader, administering digital libraries as well as print books and helping people use technology to acquire and use information. In order to fulfill this role more effectively, the Pamlico High School librarian felt she needed a dedicated space which would be used only by high school students; the school district agreed. Although the Public Librarian, Katherine Clowers, tried to accommodate by closing the library Monday and Tuesday mornings so that the high school students could have sole access, this was not deemed a workable situation by the high school librarian. So the School Superintendent, Lisa Jackson, decided that the high school would withdraw from the combination library and form its own separate library using the children’s library room.

Most members of the library board vigorously resisted this option. It was argued that since the student population has declined by 11% in 5 years, there should be other available space in the school. But alternate solutions proposed by the library board were not considered satisfactory by the school district; the decision was left to the County Board of Commissioners.

In early February, Commission Chair Paul Delamar III, decided that the school district should be given this room. The argument was that although it had originally been part of the original plan of the library (its auditorium), the library had let the school use it at times for a classroom. Mr. Delamar believed the library had survived in the past without this room and could do it again. The loss represents a 19% reduction in space for the public library.

When it was suggested that perhaps it was time for the public library to leave the high school and have its own building, the Board of Commissioners stated that they would absolutely not fund such a move.

The School District moved quickly. On February 16, the library was sent a letter asking them to vacate the room by March 15. The regional library board was sympathetic to the Pamlico Library’s dilemma and at their quarterly meeting on February 21 agreed to hire a designer to come up with a strategy to make the new smaller library workable. Both Ms Jackson and Mr. Delamar were present at this meeting. The designer began his study of the existing library in early March; his charge was to make the children’s library a top priority in the new reduced space.

On March 20, the library received an eviction notice from the school board. The eviction notice was appealed based on the fact that there was as yet no plan for the setup of the reduced library space. The appeal was rejected. So the library was forced to close in order to move temporarily the children’s collection into the library auditorium. The designer’s report is due to be completed in April. Ms. Clowers estimates it will take 4 to 6 months to complete all of the needed adjustments. Unfortunately, the library had hoped to use additional funds from its current budget to purchase new furniture; now it must be used for the construction of a new children’s library within the new boundaries of the library.

The Friends of the Library will continue to support the Pamlico Public Library and its mission to provide the best services possible for all residents of the County. The public library will continue to welcome patrons of all ages to use its facilities. Please bear with the librarian and her staff as they work to adjust to their new surroundings.

In addition, we ask you to consider whether the time has come for the library to have its own building again. We realize this is a large undertaking and can only occur with the backing of the entire community and the County Board of Commissioners. If you would like to speak to your commissioner, the Board’s contact information is here.

Roberta Jones,
President
Friends of the Pamlico County Library

pamlico library  closed
Some see the changes as the end of an era. One upshot could be a push to set up a separate library building.

Following publication of Roberta Jones’ account above, County Commission Chairman and Library Board member Paul Delamar, III wrote in to address statements made referring to him:

1. I made no decision in regard to the removal of a room from the public library. I am a member of the local and regional library board, and I am a member and (at present) chair of the Board of Commissioners. In each case I have one vote to cast. As chair I expressed the sentiment of our board that funds would not be appropriated for a new library building. That is the consensus of the elected Board of Commissioners. Beyond that, I did meet with Ben Bowditch and the Superintendent of Schools, where I expressed our Board’s sentiment on the issue. Also present at that meeting was the Vice Chair of our board, Pat Prescott and the School Finance Officer.

2. It was (and is) my opinion that the public library can function without that room, an opinion I expressed at both the regional library board mSeting and privately. Neither of those should be construed as “deciding” anything, except inasmuch as others may have been convinced that I was correct and thus supported that position.

3. Finally, and this is a technical point, much of the discussion has been centered around a supposed eviction and appeal. The publicly available correspondence between the school board and library board, which I’ve read and of which I believe copies are available, tells a different story.

It was and is my hope that the public library and school can learn to live with each other. My purpose in writing this is to give the readers of your site a needed correction on factual points. Thus, I did not delve comprehensively into the facts of the case. Of course I would be happy to do so if anyone would like.

Thanks,

Paul Delamar

UPDATE

On Monday, April 10, the Pamlico Public Library re-opened in its more condensed space. The chairman of the Pamlico Public Library Board, Ben Bowditch, sent this letter that day:

I am not a politician. I am involved with the library because I love to read, and because I believe that a public library is an essential ingredient in the life of a community. The children’s room that has been vacated has served as the focal point for reading programs and other activities which, in my opinion, are at least as important to the youth of Pamlico County as whatever conceivable use to which the high school may put the space.

I am continually amazed at how much Kat Clowers, Fran Benninger, and their colleagues are able to accomplish with the limited resources with which they have been provided. Even in the midst of the current turmoil, their always positive attitude remains intact. They deserve our admiration, gratitude and respect.

Ben Bowditch, Chair
Pamlico County Library Board and CPC Regional Library Board of Trustees

Posted Wednesday April 5, 2017 by Melinda Penkava


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